Leonard Ball arrives back home after 137 days of fighting COVID-19
By Eugenia Jones
It has been a long time coming, but McCreary County’s Leonard Ball is finally back home with the love of his life-his wife of forty-nine years, Erma.
Ball was hospitalized on January 31 after testing positive for COVID-19 on January 25. After more than four months of fighting COVID-19 and COVID related health issues, Ball arrived back home in McCreary County last week. To say he and his family are overjoyed is an understatement.
When Ball first contracted COVID-19, he thought he just had an ordinary cold. After a few days of not feeling the best, Ball went to his physician where he tested positive for the virus. Ball went into quarantine but did not improve; instead, he got worse and was hospitalized in Corbin on January 31. Ball went to the hospital reluctantly. With his oxygen level getting dangerously low, Ball’s family had to lovingly “threaten” him into getting an ambulance.
“If you aren’t at the hospital when I get off work, I’m putting you in the ambulance myself,” his grandson, Ben, warned his grandfather.
Ball’s daughter, Lisa, said her father feared he would not survive if he went to the hospital and was put on a ventilator.
Three days after arriving at the hospital in Corbin, Ball was placed on a ventilator.
Initially, Ball refused the ventilator but finally consented when his wife asked him to allow the procedure.
“Dad’s doctor told Mom if she didn’t talk Dad into being put on a ventilator, he would die,” Lisa explained.
As Ball approached his twenty-seventh day of being on a ventilator, Ball’s wife, a retired nurse, became increasingly concerned about her husband’s swollen body and the length of time he was staying on the ventilator. Meanwhile, Ball developed Kiebsiella pneumonia-a type of pneumonia often associated with use of a ventilator.
During one of the final days of Ball’s stay in the hospital in Corbin, the staff shaved Ball’s bearded face without telling the family.
“I had never in my life seen my dad without a beard,” Lisa said. “Swollen and without a beard, he was unrecognizable.”
On March 1, Ball transferred to the University of Kentucky (UK) Hospital. Tests conducted when Ball arrived at UK indicated he had suffered a small stroke at some point. Fortunately, the stroke did not impair Ball’s speech or mobility. At UK, someone was allowed to stay with Ball 24/7. He received a trachea on March 3. Ball underwent complete medical sedation causing him to be temporarily unresponsive. Doctors were concerned about Ball’s progress and concerned he would not survive.
“We are going to wait this out,” Leonard’s wife, Erma, declared adamantly. “It is in God’s hands.”
Erma wanted doctors to begin reducing some of her husband’s medications. Slowly, Leonard began to respond-blinking his eyes to answer questions.
Unfortunately, Ball was diagnosed with a carbapenem infection that resulted from an accidental cut made by a nurse as she changed a bandage. Doctors declared if the infection remained in the lungs and did not spread to Ball’s blood, he had a chance of beating the infection. Fortunately, Ball overcame the infection and, later, overcame a third infection, pseudomonas.
On March 12, Ball was moved to the Respiratory Select Care unit in Danville. There, he began talking again and gradually spent less time on the ventilator. Ball was fed through a feeding tube in the nose but was allowed to have ice.
Despite the ongoing battle against the aftereffects of COVID-19, Ball maintained his fighting spirit.
“We need the keys if I’m going to bust out of this place,” Ball declared.
After thirty days at Respiratory Care, Ball was moved to a long term care/rehab center in Mount Vernon. Erma insisted her husband’s feeding tube through the nose be removed and replaced with a PEG tube in the stomach before he was transferred.
At the Rehab, Ball’s treatment plan objective was to get him completely off the ventilator. Gradually, hour by hour, day by day, Ball was weaned from the ventilator.
As he improved, Ball got a hankering for his wife’s cooking. Instead of hospital type food, he wanted chicken and dumplings, fried taters, gravy and biscuits, and of course his wife’s wonderful Pine Ridge coffee. In short, Leonard wanted to be home.
Ball got that wish when he made his way back home to McCreary County last week.
His family is thankful to have him back where he belongs.
“Mom and Dad have such a close relationship,” Lisa said. “One time when Mom was in the hospital, Dad told the doctors to do what they needed to do to help her. He explained to them that she is more than his wife…he told them she is his life.”
Sixty-seven year old Erma feels the same about her sixty-nine year old husband.
“He wasn’t done fighting, and I wasn’t done fighting for him,” Erma said. “He still had fight in him, and I did, too.”
Their daughter, Lisa, feels her dad is alive and home today because of her mother.
“As a retired nurse, Mom had the experience and knowledge to fight for him,” Lisa said. “If Dad didn’t have my mommy and her being the stubborn old mule she is, I don’t think he would be here.”
Today, Ball and his family are enjoying his homecoming.
His arrival back in the county resulted in an outpouring of “Welcome Home” banners and a police escort. Ball was tickled by all of the attention but did have a slight concern about Sheriff Water’s escorting him home.
“What’s all this?” Ball asked his daughter, Linda Ball-Polston, as she drove through the county following Sheriff Water’s lead. “I’m not ready for the graveyard, yet!”
“If the Sheriff turns left when we go by State Garage Road (where the family cemetery plots are located), you just keep on going straight for home,” Ball instructed Linda.
When Ball arrived home at Pine Ridge, he had a happy reunion with family, friends, and his cherished Chihuahua, Macy.
Ball gobbled down his first home-cooked dinner of chicken livers, homemade gravy, Lisa’s fried taters, and Erma’s biscuit bread.
And, yes. Ball had a cup of his wife’s Pine Ridge Coffee.
Yes. After spending 137 days of fighting COVID-19 and its aftereffects, that cup of Pine Ridge Coffee tasted good-but not nearly as good as the feeling of being back home with the love of his life, Erma, and the rest of his family and loved ones.